Human wickedness and the mercy illusion

A recovery of the old sense of sin is essential to Christianity. Christ takes it for granted that men are bad. Until we really feel this assumption of his to be true, though we are part of the world he came to save, we are not part of the audience to whom his words are addressed.

C.S. Lewis – The Problem of Pain

2 thoughts on “Human wickedness and the mercy illusion

  1. Hello,
    I’m a noob to the site/noob to theology; want to continue to nurture my passion through engaging in God centered convos. Needless to say, your post have stirred my interest and have allowed me to truly engage God through my heart and my mind. SO first off, thanks for posting great entries..the reason of my comment is a request for contextualization of this quote. Especially in regards to how we “aren’t part of the audience” to whom Christ addresses his words.


  2. Thanks for the kind words Tony. I was hoping that by posting a short portion of a paragraph of Lewis’s book that it would spark some interest.

    The context of the writing is the chapter “Human Wickedness” from C.S. Lewis’s book The Problem of Pain. Since the objection of so many in our culture to God is that there is pain and suffering in the world, Lewis attempts to turn this on its head and explain why it actually proves God’s existence. He turns things around like this in many of his non-fiction works which is always why I have admired him even though I don’t always agree with him Theologically. Lewis never claimed to be a Theologian anyway in fact quite the contrary

    To define the context more specifically, Lewis has just got done explaining how love can cause pain if the object of love needs work in order to become lovable. He alludes to the fact that we see ourselves so favorably today that we can’t believe that we are indeed so flawed. This in contrast to the pagan people of Christ’s day who knew they were mortally ill. Lewis explains that Christianity now has to diagnose people before it can cure them.

    He says this for reasons I agree with, and then ends with a conclusion that I don’t agree with.

    The first reason explained is that we don’t know what kindness or mercy really is anymore. We come to expect mercy as others being kind to us, and confuse kindness with happiness. We have stripped away things like humility and temperance.

    The second reason is a lack of shame because we think it is bad. We are told to put everything out there and not be ashamed of what you have become. However Lewis correctly points out that if Christianity is true then our perception of shame is all that is really true and humbling ourselves is necessary.

    With this ground work laid, and brilliantly so I might add, he writes the statement I posted. Since Christ takes our wickedness for granted, and we are slaves to sin in our natural state, the fact that we think ourselves to be such good people means we are not the audience he was addressing.

    He goes a bit further to say that when men try and be Christians without understanding their sinful condition it ends up in resentment and this idea that a loving God couldn’t allow such pain.

    Where I personally part ways with Lewis is how he explains at the end of the chapter that this language is not to be taken as a defense of the doctrine of total depravity. He disagrees primarily on logic that if we were totally depraved we would not know it, and also because we see a lot of good in human nature.

    I think that that the doctrine of total depravity is absolutely on target and those trying to be Christians without recognizing their condition truly are not saved and therefore are indeed not part of the audience. We don’t understand our depravity until it is removed from us and we humble ourselves to it. And the goodness of man is there because man can be good in one sense without being good by God’s standards. Total depravity does not preclude me from helping an elderly person walk across a busy street.

    Furthermore it is also my contention that Lewis viewed this a bit differently in later writings as I have talked about although that is just my opinion and perhaps a bit of wishful thinking mixed in since I am such a fan of Lewis and his writings.

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